Saint George is a half-hour, multi-camera ensemble comedy that follows the chaotic life of “George Lopez,” a recently divorced working class Mexican-American turned successful entrepreneur caught between two cultures. He struggles to balance the parenting demands of his All-American Anglo ex-wife, “Mackenzie,” and the cultural expectations of his overbearing Mexican-American mother, “Alma.” As George attempts to relate to his 11-year-old son, “Harper,” his life is further complicated by his fun-loving but freeloading uncle “Tio” and cousin “Junior.” As a wealthy businessman, George also gives back by teaching history to a multi-cultural classroom at a night school in downtown Los Angeles, where he’s supervised by tough and sexy Assistant Principal “Concepcion.” Ultimately, Saint George is a celebration of a multi-generational family that humorously wrestles with cultural differences.
We had a chance to watch up with series star George Lopez to discuss the new series, read the full interview below:
Q: I thought it was interesting that you played a good guy teacher in the show, because I remember in your book I don’t think you mentioned any teachers that you particularly liked, and you mentioned some bad ones. What were your teachers like when you grew up, and why did you decide to play a teacher here?
GEORGE LOPEZ: Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think that a lot of Saint George—and let’s start with the title. You know, some titles make sense, you see Everybody Loves Raymond, you see How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family. Saint George is, needless to say, a pretty interesting title. I think you don’t become a saint until the end of your life, and how you live your life depends on whether you become a saint or not. I’m not sure that in my particular life I will become a saint any time soon, but it is a great title, I love the title.
But also, I think opposites are great for comedy. So, in my particular education, I didn’t have the greatest teachers. As a matter of fact, in the book I wrote about a teacher that I knew was a comedian in high school, and then he actually told me that for him to teach me comedy would be wasting his time. So I actually in my life have used negative things to inspire me to become positive.
So, the show, the guy giving back, we wanted to show that as a way to have a sense of a place where you could go to have specific humor about specific topics, and being a teacher and giving back, which I do quite a bit. That really doesn’t get covered as much. But we thought that that would be a great venue for comedy.
Q: What is it about this particular format that you love? What is it that made you want to do another sitcom, potentially one that will have you doing it 100 or more times?
GL: Well, it’s interesting. When I was in the clubs and I looked at guys who were creating sitcoms, you know, Jerry Seinfeld, and Drew Carey, when Drew Carey’s first show was going on, and particularly Tim Allen. You know, Tim Allen had all of Home Improvement in his stand-up, and clearly you could see that there was a show there.
With my stand-up, I didn’t particularly have a focus or a particular point of view until around ’96, when somebody who works for 3 Arts, who represents me now, told me that I probably needed to become a little bit more focused on a couple of subject matters. And then I decided to focus on family and cultural differences, and then five years later we started working on George Lopez with Bruce Helford who had done Drew Carey, and through that kind of experience with him—because he had worked on Roseanne and he had created Drew Carey, that he was great at turning the stand-ups into TV shows.
So that worked for me, and that was really a very educational, a good time to learn. A lot of comedians were still on TV, Raymond and Kevin James, and Damon Wayans was on, and Will & Grace was still on, Seinfeld was coming to an end, I think Frasier might have even still been on. So it was a great comedy time, and then when I finished the first show, I did the talk show, and that actually is probably the hardest work that I think an entertainer could have in TV, because it’s every day, and it’s very difficult.
But getting an opportunity to work with the guys who created Tim Allen’s show—I had a deal at Lionsgate, and then they signed David McFadzean and Matt Williams—so that sparked my interest because it all comes from the guys that I admired as show runners. So, to create the first show with Bruce Helford is an honor, and to work on Saint George with Matt and David is something that I didn’t expect, and I think the show in the ten episodes is really good, and the cast of actors is great. And it’s funny because people say, well, you know, you have 10 shows to try to get 90. But in the first show, my first order was only four episodes. So, I like what we’ve done with Saint George. I think the people will like it, and I’m excited about Thursday.
GL: Yes, you know, initially that character was a friend that I have, a guy named Vern. He’s kind of like a right-hand guy, and when we pitched the show to FX, they didn’t like that he was a friend, they wanted him to be a relative. And I started to write a relative that I had, an uncle that I had that was very competitive with me, and that my grandmother, it was her oldest son, that she thought he could do no wrong. And I thought that was a good place to be, because he has never worked in his life, he’s covered with tattoos, he had been in prison, and yet my mother hangs on his every word.
So I thought that would be a great place—and, you know, Danny Trejo hadn’t done any multi-camera. Forget about the regular schedule of multi-camera, but the 10/90 multi-camera is twice as fast. So I remember Danny saying that usually he would stand there and scowl, and the camera would come in on his face, and he would say, I’m going to kill everybody here. They would yell cut, and he could go to his trailer.
Q: Because you’ve been very busy with films, how did it feel to get back on to TV with a sitcom again?
GL: Yes, I was doing a nice run of films after the sitcom was over, Valentine’s Day was good, and then there were some other movies. But the actual—like they always say, the waiting around, I think some great actor had a quote that, “I do the acting for free, but they pay me to wait.” And it is, for me, the waiting was really very difficult.
I did a movie with Jackie Chan, and this is where I made my decision to go back into TV. I made a movie called Spy Next Door with Jackie Chan, it was in New Mexico, and it was freezing. Half of my trailer was warm, and half of it was cold, but the cold part was the part I got dressed in. So, in that trailer while I was waiting for Jackie Chan to beat 15 guys up in a warehouse, I decided that maybe waiting around in a trailer wasn’t particularly good for me, particularly. For everybody else, hey, that’s cool. But for me I decided that I always liked TV. I like the immediacy of TV. I think it’s an honor to be on TV, and I’m excited about actually getting another opportunity with such a great group of actors. These actors are all very, very good.
Q: So, I want to know what’s wrong with George. Why doesn’t he want Concepcion? I mean, she’s everything. Like, que la pasara manito, something?
GL: Yes, that’s a really good question. The thing about Saint George that, if you see the 10 episodes, the first show—I’ve succeeded in becoming very honest about my life. And the first George Lopez was a lot to do with an absent father and an overbearing mother. I don’t think an overbearing mother ever really gets better. If you have an overbearing mother, I think you’re going to have her until she’s not around anymore. So, revisiting an overbearing mother in this show made a lot of sense to me, because I don’t think we were done with anywhere near where my grandmother got to, as far as our relationship went to.
I think this is a great extension of that first show, in the relationship. It’s a little bit edgier, it’s a little bit harder on me, but George on the show, much like myself, has issues. He has issues with the divorce that he’s trying to resolve, he has issues with his child on the show that he’s trying to resolve. And I believe that, for me, the more honest that I can be in the creation of it, I think the funnier the stuff is.
But Concepcion is a beautiful woman, she’s in charge of her body, she’s very sexual, she’s very curvy, she’s a beautiful Latina woman, and in the show, much like in life, it would intimidate me to be with a woman who’s that secure in herself and that positive about what she wants. So, I thought that in creating that character it would be a great place to show, because sometimes the man is more assertive, and in this particular relationship, I am not. I don’t really know what I want. I don’t know where my life is going. I just got divorced, my mom has moved in with me, I’ve got an uncle and a cousin that try to tell me how to live my life. I’ve created a success for myself, and still sometimes in success you don’t expect it, and it’s not necessarily the most comfortable place to be. And I think that area is good for comedy.
Q: Your stand-up is wonderful, I love watching clips and stuff like that of your stand-up. How hard is it, or what’s more enjoyable for you? Because with the stand-up you get immediate reactions, you get laughs, whereas the TV show, now you’re waiting to see how other people are going to see what you’ve filmed weeks, months ago. How do you approach each one differently? And between your movies, your charity work, your stand-up and TV shows, what is George’s real passion?
GL: Yes, that’s a good question. You know, I’ve been doing stand-up a long time, and I continue to do it, clearly; I did it last weekend in Canada, in Windsor, a great show. And as experiences happen to me, I’ve always found a way to make humor of them. And in serious situations, too. So, stand-up has been a great outlet for that.
I don’t particularly know where I would be in my life without stand-up, because I’ve been doing it since I was 18, and never really disconnected from it. So, it’s been a great partner to have in life, and always been an outlet for the truth. I think Richard Pryor handled some of his personal issues on stage. I got a message from Jennifer Pryor, Richard’s widow, a few messages this weekend about what Richard would do, and all very supportive, and very funny, clearly.
But the platform from the stage to TV is a great stepping stone. Clearly, a lot of the stand-up comedians have turned into great—you know, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal and Jackie Gleason was a tremendous actor, and Allan King back in history. So, I don’t mind the actual wait of taping. We used to tape in front of a life audience. Saint George isn’t in front of a live audience, but the crew is about 100 people, so you do have 100 people around you.
I think the natural progression for me from stand-up is TV, so to continue to do this show for another 90 or plus—FX has been great to the show, I love that this is edgier than the first show, and I’m excited about who’s involved in the show, actor-wise, and about tackling some bigger issues into the back 90.
Q: When you look at your career up until this point, what are you most proud of?
GL: When I look at my career up and to this point, I think the thing that—you know, there hadn’t been a successful show with a Mexican-American star, I don’t believe in the history of TV. You know, Freddie Prinze was Puerto Rican, and Gary and then Desi Arnaz was Cuban, so as far as a Mexican-American, there had not been one. And it was named after me; those guys, their shows weren’t named after them.
But I think of getting the star on the Walk of Fame the day of the 100th episode, when a show really hadn’t gone past three episodes previous to that, is one. It’s hard to pinpoint that actual proudest thing, but one of the things I’m proudest of is having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, because as a 15-year-old I would go to Hollywood and we were walking through the stars, and clearly everyone imagined their name there, but no one ever thinks that that’s going to happen. So that’s been a pretty great thing.
Q: Between being a stand-up comedian and your sitcoms and everything, you’re often pulling things from your real life, and your family and friends. Does anyone in that group, your real life family and friends, ever complain about things that you have the characters do? Or incidents in real life, anything like that?
GL: Yes. I’m not going to tell you who, I think anybody could figure—you don’t have to be a CSI detective to figure out who would be upset. But clearly, you know, I have to be honest with everybody that’s listening. There’s not going to be a lot of things that I say about people in my private life that are not going to upset people in my private life. But also, it’s what has driven me from the time that I first stepped on stage in 1979. So it’s not going to change because of last weekend, and it will not change creatively for me, as long as I either do stand-up, or am honored to be involved in television.
Q: George’s ex-wife is still very much involved in his life. To move forward, will he have to cut back on their relationship, because I’m sure it’s complicated since they share a son?
GL: Well, the child on Saint George, you know, the wife is asking George to be more of a parent in divorce than he was when he was married. So Harper—great name—is 12, so by the time he’s 18, she’ll be around, bringing him around, and then he’ll be around and she’ll be around.
I don’t think that because a relationship ends and there’s a child involved that the other person particularly disappears. And in Saint George, Mackenzie will be around in the future to be a place where—you know, she has a healthy life, she’ll date and move on, and then I’ll have to deal with the fact that my ex-wife is dating and has a happy life, and then I’m stuck with my mom and my uncle and my cousin. It already sounds unhealthy.
Q: Yes, because in the first episode we see how he’s trying to get back into dating life and all that, but he’s talking to her about it, and that’s his ex that it seems to me like he hasn’t fully gotten over, and he bumps into her at the bar, she’s like oh, come and sit with us, and you’re like on that side, whether or not he should cut back on his relationship with her.
GL: Yes, he probably should, but she’s in a healthier place. She just started to date, and she’s a little bit jealous as well of him, you see it a little bit. But you see her moving on, and you see me not really knowing where to go, as far as dating.
I think one of the lines that sticks out to me is that those guys, Danny Trejo says, come on, let’s go to the club, El Sueño, there’s like all these young girls there. And then you see a lot of older dudes with younger women, and I said, “We’re old enough to be their fathers,” and he goes, “I know.” And I said, “It’s disgusting,” and he said, “Well, we have to give them something to regret.” So it’s a little bit—you know, I saw a guy who was older with a younger girl on an airplane to San Francisco, and it did strike me as not looking the healthiest.
Q: We covered this a little bit before, but how would you say Saint George differs to your other work, like on George Lopez. Like in particular, what would you say to those who maybe didn’t watch George Lopez, to get them to tune in to Saint George?
GL: Yes. Well, first of all, one was a network family show on ABC. And this one is a cable family show on FX, and there’s no real similarity as far as—you know, I had a guy, who was a great guy, who was the standards and practice guy on ABC. And he’d always run down and tell us what we could say and couldn’t say, and cover up a logo, and you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. And on FX on this show the humor is a lot edgier, a lot of the shows are edgier, I think society has gotten a bit edgier, with social media is edgier. And this show mirrors probably where we are in society right now. It’s a little bit edgier, it’s diverse.
Modern Family succeeded with having a very diverse group of actors, not necessarily ethnicity wise, but as well as ethnicity; how they behaved and who they were in life. So I think this has a lot of the elements of that. So, I think people would enjoy this show. It might be a little shocking with some of the stuff, but FX, their slogan is fearless. I wouldn’t say this was necessarily the craziest show on TV, but it is a lot different than my first one.
GL : Yes, well the issues that are in the first ten is clearly getting a divorce and having to move on with where you were, where George is at that particular time, dealing with a child that he didn’t spend too much time with because he was working. There’s an aspect of the mother continuing to be hard on him.
I’ve known relationships with friends, whose mothers still try to tell them how to live their lives, even as full grown adults and men, which I always found interesting, that they always listen. And with the uncle who is a kind of a bumbling guy, who’s very close to his son in a kind of—not a traditional way, but you can see that there’s a lot of love between these two characters.
So, between losing love and seeing a father and son relationship, and being ridden hard by his mother and trying to tell him how to run his life, and always being very negative, George will have to find a place that’s peaceful to him. So to mirror the real life, me like everyone else is trying to find peace, and sometime it’s not always the easiest thing to find. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us flawed, and I think as humans we all have flaws, and how you respond is a great way to live a better life.
I’m not sure that a comedian should be a role model, because we’re so loose with language and with situations, but as a person, much like I would want George on the show, I want the real George to be able to finally find a peaceful, healthy place in his life.
Q: Sometimes guys are just subconsciously intimidated when they’re around other guys who are tougher than they are or bigger than they are, and I was wondering two things. First of all, if that was true of you when you were a kid and wanted to seem fairly tough and so forth? And what’s it like nowadays, to be constantly around a guy like Danny Trejo, who is really, really tough in real life? Or a guy like David Zayas who plays a tough cop so well. Is that intimidating in some way?
GL: You know, that’s a really good question. That’s a good question. When I was growing up, I didn’t have a father figure, and my grandfather was not a bad guy. He had some demons, as well, he wasn’t my biological grandfather, but he was my grandmother’s second husband. He drank a little bit, I saw that growing up, and he never had kids. I think our relationship suffered a little bit in that, but I started playing golf in 1981, and I have played since 1981. It’s always been a great outlet for me, but it doesn’t take the place of a human being.
So, I’ve never really had a system of a man in my life that I could communicate with when I had issues, but I’ve talked to Danny Trejo, who is Machete, and is intimidating with tattoos, and he spent time in prison, but also he hasn’t had a drink in 45 years. And David Zayas, who plays a tough cop, is one of the sweetest guys that I’ve ever met. So I’ve talked to Danny a couple times over the weekend, and to move forward in Saint George and into the back 90, and think that I would for the first time be around a couple of guys who would actually be useful to me in my private life. So, I look forward to spending a lot of time with Danny in the near future, and getting some guidance from him would be fantastic at this point.
Q: You told why you came back to television, but how did Saint George come about?
GL: That’s a good final question. I was born on April 23rd, and April 23rd is Saint George Day. So, when I was born, my father left when I was two months old, and I think my grandmother knew that he was not the greatest guy to be around, for my mom. So he left when I was two months old. I don’t think they wanted to name me after him, so my grandmother was always big into the bakery calendars, the bakery calendars that when you went around Christmas and you got some bread and stuff, they gave you a calendar every year. And she would always have that in the kitchen where she put her make-up on. And all of the days, a lot of them are named after saints.
So I think that the day that I was born, she knew that it was Saint George Day, and decided to name me George. So knowing that story growing up, I’ve always had Saint George in my head, growing up. I don’t live, clearly, as much of a saint, but who does really? So it’s always been around, and I always found it to be a great title. Saint George. The prince in England, the future king is named George.
I bought a house in Los Angeles, the first house that I purchased after my divorce, and it’s an older Spanish-style house, and I had some work done to it. And the fireplace was really kind of dirty and sooty, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, and I actually was thinking about tearing it out. So I asked the contractor, I said, listen, I’m going to tear this out. And he says, well, the fireplace is old, let me clean it up.
So he sandblasted the inside of it, and on the inside of the fireplace, and it’s been there for over 60 years, is an emblem of Saint George, in the actual fireplace. So it’s funny that being born on Saint George, always having it around, and living as I do, and then finding that in the fireplace, it’s powerful. So I like my chances for the show, and in the future.
The post Saint George Premieres On FX Tonight! Interview With Star George Lopez also appeared on Television News.